Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Taking a Stand

It was February, 2003, and my husband and I were preparing to go to a Discipleship class at Steele Creek Church of Charlotte.  We wanted to join the church, but needed to go through the class first.  I remember telling Rod, "I don't know why we have to go to this class - we already know everything he's going to talk about!"  He agreed, but we both went anyway because we felt we were in the right church and we really wanted to join.

We were sitting among about twenty-five other people who were all there to learn more about what SCCC believed and as we sat there I began to pray that my husband would really listen and understand the message that Pastor Kelvin was giving about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I had said a prayer to receive Jesus over a hundred times in my life, usually out of fear of going to hell, but I wasn't sure where my husband stood that night so I prayed for him.

The pastor talked about things I'd never, ever heard before that night, though.  Maybe I'd heard them, but I wasn't listening - until this night.  He described what it means to truly believe in Jesus - not just with your head (he pointed out that even Satan believes Jesus is God's Son!) but with your heart - to make it personal.  He said that everything changes when you become a true believer.  Your life, your passions, everything.  He said that when you give your life to Jesus Christ, making Him the Lord of your life, you will change.  It would be a firm conviction, full surrender, and a life-style that would reflect that surrender.

As he spoke, I realized I had none of the "symptoms"of a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  I said a prayer - many times - and even went forward and stood up to go to the front and ask Jesus into my heart.  But my motivation was never because I was repenting or sorry for my sin.  Instead, it was more about "getting out of hell free" and I was told if I would say the prayer to receive Christ, I would escape hell.  It was a no-brainer!

But as I really listened to Pastor Kelvin, I realized I was way off.  I had never repented of my sin.  I'd never seen a consistent change in my life.  Usually when I would be sorry for what I did, it was because I'd been caught.  That night, I realized I'd been missing the mark completely - I'd been playing a game with God.  But God wasn't playing games with me - He opened my eyes, ears and heart to the truth of what it means to truly surrender to Him that night.  While I prayed for my husband to see the truth, I realized I was being shown the truth!  It was overwhelming.

At the end, the pastor asked those who wanted to give their lives to Christ to raise their hands while everyone's eyes were closed.  He walked them through a prayer to receive Christ and I prayed the prayer for the first time from my heart right along with them.  I was truly sorry for my sin.  I needed His forgiveness and grace and for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of God!  After the prayer was over, the pastor asked everyone to stand if they had said the prayer to receive Christ.  My husband stood to his feet beside me as everyone looked on and clapped.  I was so overwhelmed by God's presence and I was so shocked and thrilled at what had just happened in mine and in my husband's life together that I had no strength to stand.  My mind was whirling, my heart was pounding and my legs were weak.  I'd been awakened to the Truth for the first time in my life!

On our drive home, Rod and I talked about how I didn't physically stand up at the end.  He and I agreed it didn't really matter if I stood or not, because I knew I meant business with God and He knew my heart.  But I will be honest...I carried around some guilt for a few years.  I had doubts because of the verse where Jesus says, "If you stand for me, I will stand for you, but if you deny me, I will deny you before my Father in Heaven".  Had I denied Jesus by not standing that night?  I hoped not.

As the days went by, I saw the fruit of His presence in my life; however, I had been raised in a very legalistic church that would have frowned on my not standing that night and probably would have told me I was not truly saved.  I prayed and asked God to strengthen me and He did.  I asked Him to tell me if it was not real, if I had not pleased Him that night.  He never revealed to me that He was not pleased, so I trusted Him.  But it was still in the back of my thoughts and it would surface every now and then with a twinge of condemnation.  I would remind myself of Romans 8:1, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  My salvation was not based on anything I could do anyway...it was all based on Him and what He did!

Several years later, while I was a contestant on the reality show, Survivor China, we were confronted in the first few minutes with a "welcoming ceremony".  It was in a Buddhist temple.  When asked to bow before the huge Buddha in the temple as part of this "welcoming ceremony", I excused myself and left the temple.  When Jeff asked me why I said, "I'm not religious, but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ and I'm only going to put my face on the floor for Him." (You can find the clip of the show on the menu bar under "Bio").

There it was.  God, by His amazing grace, gave me an opportunity to stand again - and this time, He gave me the strength to do it.  I am so grateful for this gift He gave me.  I no longer beat myself up about "not standing" because in my heart, I believe God is telling me "Leslie, you may not have stood physically that night at church, but for the first time in your life, you stood for me in your heart."  He is so good.  All those years of standing and going forward physically did nothing.  It was only when I stood in my heart that it truly counted.  And when He asked me to stand physically, I did, and it wasn't out of a duty, a fear or a religion - it was because I loved Him and wanted to stand for Him - after all, He stood for me on Calvary.

If you've stood for Jesus physically many times but inside you are not sure where you stand, you could be deceived just as I was for so many years.  I pray you will get honest with yourself and with God!  He loves you so much.  He, and only He, knows your heart and your intentions.  If you need more information on what it means to truly be a Christian, please check out this website: www.christianityexplored.com.  I pray God will open your eyes, ears and heart to the Truth! 

Or, on the other hand, perhaps you have struggled because you didn't physically stand that night you received Christ.  I encourage you to take a look at your life since that precious moment when you repented of your sin and asked Him to be your Lord and Savior.  Is there a change in your life? Not the self-induced kind that wears you out, but the kind that comes from deep within - from His presence. You cannot help but change when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of you!  It's slow sometimes, but there is always a change of some sort.  If you repented of your sins, received His forgiveness and if you love Him and you see evidence of His presence in your life, please don't beat yourself up any longer!  You stand for Him by the way you are living your life - each and every day.  His grace is sufficient.  By living your life for Jesus, you are taking a stand.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Difficulty That Led to Destiny

I remember when the doctor came in and looked me in the eye and said "We're not sure she's going to make it."  After that, I sort of blacked out.  I woke up and there was a man with a priest-like collar in the room, asking me if I wanted him to pray for me.  He prayed and then once he left I said my own prayer.  I knew I didn't deserve to have my prayer answered because I wasn't living a life for God at all - as a matter of fact, since I left my home to get married and start a family, I had completely turned my back on God and didn't even go to church anymore.  But things seemed dire at this point.  Would He listen?

A few days before, my daughter Stephanie, who was four at the time, had come down with the chickenpox.  She was very sick from the get go but the second day of her illness, it got much worse.  Her fever had gotten up to 106 and I was scared.  I'd taken her into the doctor several times and was told "It's just the chickenpox.  Give her ibuprofen and give it time, she'll be fine."  But things weren't fine.  Her body was swelling and she was moaning as if she was in tremendous pain.  She couldn't even stand for me to touch her.  I finally called the ambulance and said "You are taking her to the hospital right now and I'm not bringing her home until you tell me what is wrong with her!"  They took her to the hospital.

Now, they were telling me she had the flesh eating bacteria and that her body had gone into septic shock.  The doctors had cut off her hospital bracelet twice and replaced it because it kept getting so tight from the swelling that ballooned her tiny body.  She was now unconscious and it seemed hopeless.  Doctors crowded around her, poked at her, took x-rays and blood and now they were telling me they did not think she would make it.  I was absolutely devastated.

I think a part of me believed God was punishing me for running from Him.  I even think a part of me, due to a legalistic upbringing, believed I deserved it.  But that morning I found myself praying for the first time in years.  Through loud sobs, I begged God not to take my baby away.  I told Him I was sorry for turning my back on Him and that if He took her away I was afraid I wouldn't survive.  I begged Him to please let me keep her.  I told Him that if He would allow me to keep her, I would dedicate her to Him - she would be all His.  I wasn't sure how that would all work out, but I remember vividly that I was not willing to give up myself, but that I was willing to give her to Him.  I knew I had already proven that I couldn't live up to the standards of a good Christian, so maybe she could?  My ideas of God were so twisted.

God chose to heal my daughter, much to the doctor's surprise.  She was in intensive care for two weeks at a Children's Hospital.  It was the longest and most frightening two weeks of my life.  But God gave me the grace I needed to get through this time.  To this day I think "How did I do that?!" and then I remember the grace.  He helped me through it.  I could not have done it without Him.

Once we were home from the hospital and she was all healed, Stephanie developed a love for Jesus that I cannot explain.  I certainly cannot take credit for it.  She wanted to go to church.  So my husband and I would drop her off and come back and pick her up or we'd send her with her grandparents.  I didn't go with her - honestly I think there was a part of me that didn't want to ruin it for her.  She was doing so well and I knew I was a failure in God's eyes (or at least that's what I was convinced of).

As I watched my daughter grow up loving Jesus, I saw something in her that I desperately wanted.  It was a relationship.  She wasn't religious at all - it wasn't about keeping rules and playing the church game like I did most of my life - it was about grace and relationship.  It was beautiful and it was real.  I began going to church to see if I could find what it was that she had.  Eventually, the Lord did open my eyes to the Truth and I gave my life to Him.  I often smile when I think about how I thought dedicating my daughter to Him was such a better idea than dedicating myself. God knew that He would use that relationship with her to get to me, too!  He's so good.

Today, Stephanie is a 21 year old junior in college.  She is passionately in love with Jesus.  She is majoring in Intercultural Studies and wants to be in missions.  I look at her often and thank God for allowing her to stay here with us and for showing us Himself through her witness.  I know that few weeks back in 1994 had to have been the most difficult of my life, but I also know that through that difficult time, God eventually brought me into a real relationship with Him.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by life right now - please remember that God has a plan.  You may be able to look back on your life in a few weeks, months or years and see how God was weaving His will into your life through these situations all along.  He will give you the grace for the moment - for whatever you are going through.  Trust Him.  He loves you!

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Are You Functioning Half-way?

Gosh, I love my husband.  We went on a date, just the two of us, last night and had a nice meal.  Then we sat in the parked car and talked for hours.  As we talked, I realized that it had been awhile since we'd done that.  We are currently living with my mom and step father until our house is ready to move into (we close on April 28!) and it's a smaller space with six people and three pets and though we all get along fabulously and there isn't any drama, it's hard to find one-on-one time with each other.  I'm sure Mom and Dave feel the same way!  They are being so sweet about it though.

As Rod and I talked last night, we began to rehash the past few months as we looked for a home together.  We both laughed as we remembered all the many, many (did I say many?) houses we looked at together.  If Rod had been left with the decision alone, we would've moved into a house that would not have been my choice.  If I had made the choice, he would not have been happy with it, either!  But together, we made the perfect choice.  The day we were driving to see the house we ended up purchasing, I remember saying something to the effect of, "We're never going to find a house we agree on!"  I remember feeling frustrated and wondered if we'd ever agree on anything.

But the moment we walked in, we both knew.  I don't even think we spoke as we walked from room to room.  I was stunned at how at home and excited I felt and didn't want to share it with him because I thought that meant he hated it.  But I glanced over at him and saw "the smile".  You know, the look that says, "Oh yeah, this is the one."  So after we'd looked over the whole home, I looked at him and said, "This is the 'one', isn't it?"  We hugged and I knew that we'd found it.  The offer was made just two days later and we've not had one single regret.  No doubts.  No fear.

As we talked last night, he said something that impacted me deeply.  He said that we need to make more decisions in our life like we did about the house.  Whether it be in our careers, our ministry, our family, no matter what...we need to be in agreement.  We are not just two individuals.  We are married, and according to God's Word, we are now one.  But often in our lives, we make our decisions without a thought of what the other might think.  Now, we don't do this to be inconsiderate, and I even think we sometimes make these decisions because we don't want to bother the other with what we consider to be our own issues.  But we are one.  We are married and next month, it will be twenty-two years that we've been married.  Did it really take us this long to figure this out? (smile)

What a blessing it is and what a privilege it is to be married to Rod!  He loves the Lord, desires to lead our family spiritually and there is never a doubt in my mind that he loves me.  Last night, on our date, I was reminded of all of that.  Thank you, Lord, for giving me such a wonderful man to walk through this life with.  My "other half".

Have you dated your spouse lately?  If not, I encourage you to do it.  And talk.  Really talk.  After all, your spouse is your other half.  We are not meant to function half-way.

Genesis 23-24:
23 “At last!” the man exclaimed.
   “This one is bone from my bone,
      and flesh from my flesh!
   She will be called ‘woman,’
      because she was taken from ‘man.’”

 24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good Morning, Lord!


"My heart has heard you say, "Come and talk with me." And my heart responds "Lord, I am coming."  -Psalms 27:8 (NLT)

As I read this verse this morning, my heart just skipped a beat.  It's true - every morning these are the words I hear from God in my heart - "Leslie, I'm here - come talk with me"- and those words get me out of bed more often than not these days.  I find my days go much smoother and I am a lot more at peace when I begin my days looking at God's face before anyone else's.  That was a quote by Charles Spurgeon that I read in The Little Red Book of Wisdom - "We should first seek to see the face of God each day before seeing the face of any man"

So, how in the world do I explain those days when I roll over and push the snooze button every nine minutes until I realize I've missed out on my time with God?  What's that about?  I have so much to look forward to - reading His word, praying, giving Him my burdens, and yet I choose to sleep through it sometimes.  Oh, I pay for it dearly (as does my poor family, I might add!).  But inevitably, there comes a day more often than I care to admit, that I do the exact opposite of what my heart really wants to do.

I'm so glad God is gracious and loving and forgiving.  And that He doesn't base His love for me on my works, but on His character, mercy and grace.  I would be in big trouble were it not for His unconditional love.

I had a wise woman say to me once "Leslie, if you are having a hard time waking up for your quiet times with the Lord, think of Him sitting on your couch, looking at His watch, eagerly waiting for you to come out and spend some time with Him.  Maybe He's petting your dog.  Maybe He's eagerly tapping His foot in anticipation!  Whatever He's doing, He's doing it because He just can't stand to be away from you for one more minute."

I love that.  It doesn't make me feel guilty or obligated at all - it makes me feel loved and that the God of the Universe is expecting a visit from me and He has much to share with me and it can't wait!  And it's true - He waits for me.  And He waits for you! 

I've never in my life heard anyone say "Gee, I wish I hadn't gotten up so early each day to spend time with God - what a waste of time."  Nope.  And I never will.  I promise you, if you are having a hard time getting up early to spend time with your Father in Heaven, He will give you the grace you need to get up (even if you're not a morning person - I promise!) and not only will you get a fresh, new word from Him each day, but you will find that you are more aware of Him in every day life.  He will fill your life with His presence.

"Getting up early and spending time with God is like getting dressed for the day.  Who would go out into battle without getting dressed in their armor first?  Spending time with God first each day ensures we are ready for whatever life brings."

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